Pittsburgh’s 3 Rivers Screenwriters Conference in 2017: An Interview with Cathy Rescher

The 3 Rivers Screenwriters Conference (3RSC) is a three-day educational event (May 19-21, 2017) that seeks to further the art and craft of storytelling by supporting, connecting, educating and inspiring writers, actors, directors, playwrights, producers, novelists and other artists across all genres and mediums.

The Conference, in its second year, will be held at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA, and will feature a host of guest speakers, film screenings (including two specifically for kids), and exponentially more programming than it did last year.  You can check out all those details and more at www.3RSConference.com.

With only three weeks until the Conference, Cathy Rescher, Founder and Director of the 3 Rivers Screenwriters Conference, very generously took some time out of her exceedingly busy schedule to talk to me a bit about the Conference.


What’s your ultimate vision for this conference?

I want to support, elevate and inspire people in their creative fields by connecting them with folks in the industry who live in other parts of the world.  The Conference is about sharing, networking and building dreams.

The Conference is for anyone who enjoys books, movies or television as much as it is for people making a living in the film, television or theatre industries. It’s an event for anyone who enjoys a compelling story to come and learn about the process of what it takes to come up with an idea and come out with a final product, whether it’s a YouTube series, feature film, stage play, novel, etc.  There are a lot of universal storytelling themes covered in the Conference that go beyond the scope and magnitude of just screenwriting.

One of the primary goals of the Conference is to help create economic opportunities and growth for individuals as well as the community. So I envision the Conference becoming its own non-profit organization at some point. A project like this takes many people to pull off because there are so many aspects involved in planning an event of this nature and scale – everything from programming to hospitality to event coordination and marketing and social media. It’s basically like a start up. My hope is that this project will create jobs – jobs not only for those staffing the event, but also jobs in the film and television sector by connecting more people to each other within the industry – both here in Southwest Pennsylvania and elsewhere.


What can attendees expect in terms of content and guest speakers?  What might they get out of it?


2016 3 Rivers Screenwrtiers Conference. Photo Credit: Franklin Carpio, Matt LaTorre and Alex Patho.

I try to make sure there’s something for everyone.  So if you’re into improv or theatre, acting, directing, any form of writing, special effects, animation, stunt coordination, producing or filmmaking, there’s something for you.

All our guest speakers are professionals with a track record of creative contributions and industry knowledge and insights, whether locally, nationally, or internationally.  These are people who are committed to their craft and their respective industries.

The weekend may feel like a boot camp for attendees who are just starting out in terms of exposing them to a lot of information at once.  Last year, we had attendees who have been in the industry for a really long time who told me that they still benefited greatly from the programming.  And that sort of success is one of the reasons why I’m doing it again. It was incredible to hear how the inaugural Conference helped people take their craft to the next stage, and to witness a community develop around that event.


How do you get your guest speakers?

I met most of my contacts by attending the Austin Film Festival (AFF) over the past several years. There, I’ve been able to meet and befriend several wonderful people. These folks, now some of my closest friends, were kind enough to introduce and refer me to several people in their network. So, word-of-mouth and friends have played a key role in getting amazing speakers to attend the 3 Rivers Screenwriters Conference.


What’s the farthest that a guest speaker has traveled to attend the Conference?

I would normally have said Los Angeles, California, but last year Hans-Martin Liebing was flying back from Germany to California to come to Pittsburgh.  So I count that trip even though he technically stopped back at his home in LA, first.


Running a conference, let alone creating one out of nothing, is a sizable undertaking.  Why did you decide to start up the 3 Rivers Screenwriters Conference?  What was your inspiration or motivation?


2016 3 Rivers Screenwrtiers Conference. Photo Credit: Franklin Carpio, Matt LaTorre and Alex Patho.

In terms of it being an undertaking, I was very naïve about it.  I was consistently inspired and uplifted during my successive years at the Austin Film Festival’s writers’ conference, where famous filmmakers would fly in to reconnect with the community there. AFF very quickly became a creative pilgrimage for me – a time for me to reconnect with my passions for storytelling, filmmaking and writing.  I got to meet a lot of very influential and creative people who I just wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t made the trek down there.

Getting to Austin is an expensive endeavor though.  The Producer’s Badge (the top badge) alone costs several hundred dollars (over $600 walk-up price).  “Surely,” I thought, “there must be something closer to home.”  But I looked and there wasn’t.

AFF was just such a wonderful and unique place, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the Pittsburgh community would come together and support each other in a similar fashion?”  I mean, there was a little here, a little there, but I didn’t see anything on the same sort of scale as Austin happening in Pittsburgh.  I thought, “If I can replicate even the smallest fraction of what happens in Austin, it would be amazing!”

Another reason for starting the Conference was also to get some of these directors, producers, writers and agents coming to Pittsburgh and checking the city out. These are the folks that take meetings at production houses and studios, get to sit in on conversations and ultimately determine where those films and television shows are going to be shot and made.  And, well, wouldn’t it be nice if they chose Pittsburgh because they had already met a lot of friendly people here who were savvy and educated about the filmmaking process. And if that doesn’t seal the deal, it doesn’t hurt that we have film tax credits and a beautiful, clean and accessible city that can look like a lot of different places.  I frequently feel like a cheerleader or an ambassador for Pittsburgh, the city has so much to offer!


How much of your time does the Conference take up leading to the actual days?  How much time does it take you to recover afterward?

How much time does it take up?  Pretty much all of my time. It’s basically several full-time jobs done by one individual.  There’s a reason why conferences have twelve full-time people on staff all year long.  Which I didn’t realize when I first started down this road.

Last year I definitely got burned out and I sort of went MIA afterward.  I just had to walk away from it for a while.  If there hadn’t been so much positive feedback from the speakers, the volunteers, the attendees…everyone, I wouldn’t have done it again.

I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to recover from year one because I feel a bit behind.  That said, relationships take time and I’ve been fortunate to have made so many amazing connections. I’ve definitely built some incredible inroads with people over the last several months. I just try to plug away at it every day. So the Conference is moving forward, albeit slower than I’d like, but really, really nicely.


Who were your major partners and collaborators on this?

This year, Point Park University has been a major support.  MFA students from their Cinema Arts program in Stage and Screen Writing came last year and got so much out of the Conference’s programming that the department went to the University to see if they would host the event on their campus. The University agreed and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have access to their state-of-the-art facilities. It’s on account of the University as a venue that I can extend the Conference’s programming to include workshops and film screenings which has, in turn, led to further partnerships. Remake Learning and the EQT Children’s Festival are now marketing and promoting two of our family-friendly film screenings to their audience. So we expect to see a lot more foot traffic over the weekend, which will be tremendous!

Also, New Sun Rising has been a tremendous backbone. They’re our fiscal sponsor, which means that the Conference can receive grants and donations from foundations and organizations through use of their not-for-profit status.  They don’t give us any money or anything themselves – they just facilitate that for us.  When my application was reviewed over a year and a half ago, it was approved quickly and greenlighted unanimously. That decision told me that I wasn’t the only one interested in seeing the 3 Rivers Screenwriters Conference come to fruition and succeed.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful people of Alphabet City who have agreed to host the Conference’s main party, A Cinematic Soirée, on Saturday, May 20. City of Asylum and Casellula both jumped at the opportunity to get behind the Conference and I’m so very grateful for their support of the project. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate venue for our party! Books, beer, great eats and a movie screen…did somebody call “Action!?”


What has been your biggest victory or proudest moment?

Cathy Rescher, Founder and Director of the 3 Rivers Screenwriters Conference. Photo by Alex Patho.

All the positive feedback I got afterward was such a huge victory for me. I even got a card in the mail from somebody who raved about the weekend and how much it meant to her. This individual went out of her way to send it to my dad at the University of Pittsburgh since she didn’t know my home address. That was very touching and so kind.

Additionally, I would like to mention that I didn’t get to see a single session all weekend long until the final pitch finale. But the gracious guys at Flixsburgh who helped me out last year were kind enough to loan me their mics and were clever enough to record every session that weekend. So I got to listen to all the audio recordings of each session. I tell you, hearing what the speakers and attendees brought to the seminars in terms of their conversations and discussions blew me away! All winter long, as I listened, I was in awe, marveling over the contributions and interactions that had been taking place while I was running around behind the scenes that weekend. With very little direction and input from me, everyone just got down to business and talked shop and connected with each other. It was magical to witness, even if only afterward!


For more information about the upcoming 3 Rivers Screenwriters Conference, film screenings and parties, please visit the website at www.3RSConference.com. Conference tickets start at $50 for Students and $100 for Regular Admissions. Tickets to A Cinematic Soirée start at $15 (Students) and $30 (Regular). For further questions or more information, feel free to email info@3RSConference.com.

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